Fear in general populations: A cross-sectional study on perceived fear of common diseases, COVID-19, life events, and environmental threats in 30 countries

Jiaying Li, Vinciya Pandian, Daniel Yee Tak Fong, Kris Yuet Wan Lok, Janet Yuen Ha Wong, Mandy Man Ho, Edmond Pui Hang Choi, Patricia M. Davidson, Wenjie Duan, Marie Tarrant, Jung Jae Lee, Chia Chin Lin, Oluwadamilare Akingbade, Khalid M. Alabdulwahhab, Mohammad Shakil Ahmad, Mohamed Alboraie, Meshari A. Alzahrani, Anil S. Bilimale, Sawitree Boonpatcharanon, Samuel ByiringiroMuhammad Kamil Che Hasan, Luisa Clausi Schettini, Walter Corzo, Josephine M. De Leon, Anjanette S. De Leon, Hiba Deek, Fabio Efficace, Mayssah A. El Nayal, Fathiya El-Raey, Eduardo Ensaldo-Carrasco, Pilar Escotorin, Oluwadamilola Agnes Fadodun, Israel Opeyemi Fawole, Yong Shian Shawn Goh, Devi Irawan, Naimah Ebrahim Khan, Binu Koirala, Ashish Krishna, Cannas Kwok, Tung Thanh Le, Daniela Giambruno Leal, Miguel Ángel Lezana-Fernández, Emery Manirambona, Leandro Cruz Mantoani, Fernando Meneses-González, Iman Elmahdi Mohamed, Madeleine Mukeshimana, Chinh Thi Minh Nguyen, Huong Thi Thanh Nguyen, Khanh Thi Nguyen, Son Truong Nguyen, Mohd Said Nurumal, Aimable Nzabonimana, Nagla Abdelrahim Mohamed Ahmed Omer, Oluwabunmi Ogungbe, Angela Chiu Yin Poon, Areli Reséndiz-Rodriguez, Busayasachee Puang-Ngern, Ceryl G. Sagun, Riyaz Ahmed Shaik, Nikhil Gauri Shankar, Kathrin Sommer, Edgardo Toro, Hanh Thi Hong Tran, Elvira L. Urgel, Emmanuel Uwiringiyimana, Tita Vanichbuncha, Naglaa Youssef

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In this study, we assessed the general population's fears towards various diseases and events, aiming to inform public health strategies that balance health-seeking behaviours. Methods: We surveyed adults from 30 countries across all World Health Organization (WHO) regions between July 2020 and August 2021. Participants rated their fear of 11 factors on an 11-point Likert scale. We stratified the data by age and gender and examined variations across countries and regions through multidimensional preference analysis. Results: Of the 16 512 adult participants, 62.7% (n = 10 351) were women. The most feared factor was the loss of family members, reported by 4232 participants (25.9%), followed by cancer (n = 2248, 13.7%) and stroke (n = 1416, 8.7%). The highest weighted fear scores were for loss of family members (mean (x̄) = 7.46, standard deviation (SD) = 3.04), cancer (x̄ = 7.00, SD = 3.09), and stroke (x̄ = 6.61, SD = 3.24). The least feared factors included animals/insects (x̄ = 3.72, SD = 2.96), loss of a mobile phone (x̄ = 4.27, SD = 2.98), and social isolation (x̄ = 4.83, SD = 3.13). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was the sixth most feared factor (x̄ = 6.23, SD = 2.92). Multidimensional preference analyses showed distinct fears of COVID-19 and job loss in Australia and Burundi. The other countries primarily feared loss of family members, cancer, stroke, and heart attacks; this ranking was consistent across WHO regions, economic levels, and COVID-19 severity levels. Conclusions: Fear of family loss can improve public health messaging, highlighting the need for bereavement support and the prevention of early death-causing diseases. Addressing cancer fears is crucial to encouraging the use of preventive services. Fear of non-communicable diseases remains high during health emergencies. Top fears require more resources and countries with similar concerns should collaborate internationally for effective fear management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5019
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Global Health
Publication statusPublished - Jun 7 2024
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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